Monkey Wrenches

In this session, we'll cover what to do when you're asked to makeover presentations under tight deadlines, how to set expectations with your presenters, how to design inclusively, and what to do when presenters disagree with your design changes.
  • Collaboration
  • Design
  • Universal Design
25 minutes
download triage checklist
25 minutes
download triage checklist
  • Collaboration
  • Design
  • Universal Design
download triage checklist


Today I want to talk to you about how to approach design you’re cre­at­ing some­thing for some­one else and you hear the direct or implied words: “I don’t like it.” What do I mean by, “I don’t like it!”? I’m speak­ing from the per­spec­tive of your pre­sen­ter or that project man­ager who is the gate­keeper between the two of you. When either of them express dis­like for slides, that dis­like can come in two fla­vors:
  • Either they don’t like the slides they’ve brought to you or
  • they don’t like the slides after you worked your magic on them or
  • both.
Let’s address both sit­u­a­tions, talk about some pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures for the for­mer and per­sua­sive tech­niques for the lat­ter.

Sources of slide angst

Let’s talk about the WHY of the dis­like. Where does it come from? Slide angst can be rooted in sev­eral things:
  • Not know­ing how to com­mu­ni­cate a point
  • Not know­ing how to use the program
  • Not hav­ing enough time to think a con­cept through
  • They used some­one else’s slides
  • They want to use their slides as a teleprompter
  • They think the audi­ence needs ALL THE THINGS


Ok, before we get started on those bad slides, there are two things we need to do first. One: it’s impor­tant that you know how the deck is being pre­sented.
  • Is it a slide­doc?
  • Is it a webi­nar where every­one will be sit­ting 12 inches from their screens?
  • Is it in a meet­ing room with a crappy pro­jec­tor and lots of windows?
  • Or is it on the main stage at a conference?
How the deck will be pre­sented will inform how the slides will be made over.

Set expectations

Two, you need to set expec­ta­tions about the out­comes you can pro­duce within the given time­frame. Esti­mat­ing how much time a project will take is prob­a­bly the thing I am the worst at. So I made a check­list I run through with the pre­sen­ter that lists out what work will be done depend­ing on the dead­line. I know this is small. Right now, I just want to show you how much work I do at each level. I’ve added a link to a pdf of this table to this page so you can down­load it. Take it, revise it to your will, and keep it handy. The list (avail­able for down­load below) is divided up into 3 types of dead­lines: loom­ing in red, upcom­ing in yel­low, and dis­tant in green. Note that more than 50% of the red col­umn is about only mak­ing things on the slide con­sis­tent & acces­si­ble.

One slide, three ways

Ok, we have 3 kinds of dead­lines and dif­fer­ent amounts of work that can be done for each one. Let’s use one slide and make it over in 3 dif­fer­ent ways accord­ing to those dead­lines. Assume that you’re work­ing an 8 day today. You have 2 hours of manda­tory meet­ings to attend, some admin work to do, and a bunch of decks from var­i­ous stake­hold­ers to get done. And then you get an email from your boss ask­ing you to update this slide for the pre­sen­ta­tion they’re giv­ing in XYZ con­fer­ence room. “When do you need it?” “In an hour” is the answer. And this is the slide.

1‑hour makeover edit list

  • Reset slide layout
  • Got rid of that clip art
  • Sim­pli­fied the call­out shape
  • Added space between bullets
  • Made text sizes consistent
  • Removed bold from almost everything
  • Removed under­lined text, made bold instead
  • Made inden­ta­tions consistent
  • Removed .PNG check­marks, changed bul­lets to actual checkmarks
  • Changed col­ors used to be readable/accessible (you’ll hear me say this a lot)… still within brand palette.
This is as far as I will take a slide makeover when given no time to do it in. At this point, I hon­estly don’t care one lit­tle bit about the con­tent. I haven’t been given enough time to care.

2‑day makeover

Ok. Let’s expand the dead­line. Say I was given until the day after tomor­row to fix this up. Same work­load. In that case, I would have cleaned up to this point, dupli­cated the slide to save one as an option, and con­tin­ued play­ing. Addi­tional edits include:
  • more white space to reduce cog­ni­tive load
  • title reworded
  • chun­ked out months
  • made a visual indi­ca­tor of where we are in the process

2‑week makeover

We kept the last ver­sion, the yel­low dead­line ver­sion, as option one and ditched the red dead­line ver­sion. (As in, I saved it sep­a­rately and won’t show it to the pre­sen­ter unless they are ADAMANT that I show them some­thing more akin to what they gave me.) We visu­ally for­mat­ted as a time­line and color coded the chunks of time so that you can eas­ily under­stand the dif­fer­ences in dura­tion. Then we added a lit­tle ani­ma­tion.

Give options

Remem­ber to give options when you can. Espe­cially for ret­i­cent pre­sen­ters. Show them what they asked for and then show them what COULD be. Also, show options when you notice that the infor­ma­tion can be inter­preted sev­eral ways if you have no way of talk­ing to the pre­sen­ter directly. (Some­times the pre­sen­ter is too close to the info and may not even real­ize that there’s another way to inter­pret the info.) Then make a print­out like this with 3 ver­sions of the same slide under var­i­ous dead­lines and use it to set expec­ta­tions for future projects.

Reviewing with the presenter

Ok, now comes the moment to send off your hard work to the pre­sen­ter. This is when “I don’t like it” can mean they don’t like your changes. And this is also when you might have to sell your rec­om­men­da­tions. Well-designed slides and copy DO help the audi­ence quickly under­stand the infor­ma­tion being spo­ken to. Well-designed slides and copy DO NOT:
  • over­whelm the audi­ences with too much information
  • dis­tract the audi­ence from what is being said
  • cause phys­i­cal dis­com­fort to those look­ing at or read­ing it

Universal design & accessibility

When work­ing with peo­ple who are resist­ing well-thought-out makeovers, it’s impor­tant to walk them through the whys behind the changes they aren’t too happy about. Some of us design on instinct and gut feel­ing, some of us method­i­cally apply design prin­ci­ples, some of metic­u­lously apply uni­ver­sal design stan­dards to accom­mo­date peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. No mat­ter which cat­e­gory you fall under, it’s impor­tant to have some guide­lines and best prac­tices doc­u­mented to fall back on when hav­ing these kinds of dis­cus­sions with your pre­sen­ter. I’ve men­tioned acces­si­bil­ity a cou­ple of times so far, but what does that mean for our pre­sen­ta­tion design and how can it help us win our pre­sen­ters over with regards to the hard work we’ve done? Acces­si­ble or uni­ver­sal design means mak­ing an expe­ri­ence just as good for those with dis­abil­i­ties as for those with­out. And dis­abil­ity comes in many fla­vors:
  • per­ma­nent dis­abil­i­ties like colorblindness
  • tem­po­rary dis­abil­i­ties such as cataracts & bro­ken arms
  • sit­u­a­tional ones such as screen glare or a hor­ri­ble inter­net connection
Any­one can expe­ri­ence a dis­abil­ity when the design, envi­ron­ment, atti­tude, or social struc­ture excludes them from par­tic­i­pat­ing or under­stand­ing. By mak­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion work for the extreme cases makes the expe­ri­ence bet­ter over­all for every­one. We call this uni­ver­sal design. Legal depart­ments likes to call it “avoid­ing law­suits.” How many of you design with acces­si­bil­ity in mind now? Let’s see how this ties into our slide makeovers.

Vision-based impairments

Affects those with:
  • Blind­ness
  • Col­or­blind­ness
  • Aging eyes
  • Screen glare
Design con­sid­er­a­tions:
  • Is the body copy size at least 16pt?
  • Is the color con­trast between text and back­ground high enough?
  • Is the color con­trast on all parts of the pre­sen­ta­tion high enough?
  • Are you mak­ing use of Alt Text on icons and images for com­pat­i­bil­ity with screen readers?
  • (or mark­ing them as dec­o­ra­tive to reduce the noise?)
Text size & readability If your pre­sen­ta­tion is going to be given in a room on a screen, and your pre­sen­ter insists on a slide of solid text, send them this slide. Have them stand in the back of the room and do a vision test. What is the small­est size they can read? How is their vision com­pared to every­one in the room? And if they have to have a wall of text up on screen to appease the Com­pli­ance gods… then, hope­fully, the pre­sen­ter will be ready to crack a joke about what the audi­ence is see­ing.

Comprehension- & reading-based impairments

Affects those with:
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Irlen Syn­drome
  • Advanced age
  • Cog­ni­tive impairments
  • Lan­guage barriers
  • Hasn’t slept well
  • Dis­tracted by children
Design con­sid­er­a­tions:
  • Is the text to back­ground con­trast too high?
  • Are we imped­ing read­abil­ity by cen­ter­ing large blocks of text?
  • Do we have enough white space in our text styles?
  • Are you using place­hold­ers as much as pos­si­ble to sup­port screen readers?
  • AYUTMA? (are you using too many acronyms?)

Hearing-based impairments

Affects those with:
  • Deaf
  • Hard of hearing
  • Noisy envi­ron­ment
  • Small, needy children
Design con­sid­er­a­tions:
  • Do we make use of cap­tion­ing in our presentations?
  • Do we offer tran­scripts of any video and audio content?

Technology impairments

Affects those with:
  • Poor hard­ware quality
  • Out­dated soft­ware version
  • Poor inter­net connectivity
Design con­sid­er­a­tions:
  • Are our ani­ma­tions too com­plex to run smoothly over poor inter­net connections?
  • Are you mov­ing through slides too quickly for poorer con­nec­tiv­ity when pre­sent­ing online?


So there you have it. One slide, 3 ways depend­ing on how much time you’re given. Each option is rooted in uni­ver­sal design which deliv­ers a set of best prac­tices that are, in some ways, eas­ier for The Busi­ness to under­stand and agree to when it comes to your design changes. When it comes down to it, just remem­ber that you and the pre­sen­ter are on the same side. You want the audi­ence to con­nect with the infor­ma­tion being pre­sented. Have empa­thy & be kind.
About Stephy Hogan

About Stephy Hogan

Instructor, Director at the Presentation Guild, UX Leader

Stephy is 2 parts designer, 2 parts developer, 3 parts perfectionist, and 1 part impatient mother. She's a founding board member at the Presentation Guild, has formatted more charts than she cares to count, leads a user experience team at a cybersecurity company, teaches presentation workshops for one of the top presentation agencies in the country, barely plays guitar, and loves glitter. Once, she drove through a tire fire on a golf cart because it was part of her job as a chemist. Now she enjoys making typically mundane experiences a lot more fun--like sitting through an 80-slide benefits presentation or reading this bio.

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